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Former Arizona inmate wants to improve state’s justice system

PHOENIX — An Arizona man sentenced to life now spends his time trying to improve the state’s justice system.

“I went to prison in 1974,” James Hamm, director of Middle Ground Prison Reform, said. “I pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. It was a drug-related homicide.

“I was legally responsible, with my co-defendant, for the deaths of two people. I’m personally responsible for the death of one of them.”

Hamm was sent to prison with a sentence of 25 years to life. That sentence was commuted in 1989 by former Gov. Rose Mofford and he was released in 1992.

“I got a Bachelor’s Degree in applied sociology with an extended major from Northern Arizona University while I was in prison,” he said. “And I got a law degree from the College of Law at Arizona State University after I was released from prison.”

Even though Hamm passed the bar he’s not allowed to represent anyone.

“I passed the bar, but when I applied for admission, the character and fitness committee said, ‘No, we’re not going to approve you,’” he said.

Since his release, Hamm and his wife have spent their time advocating at the Legislature for reasonable policies. They also assist families and individuals with regard to dealing with the Arizona Department of Corrections and some of its more problematic aspects, he said.

Middle Ground (Prison Reform) is sort of a watchdog group over the Department of Corrections, but its primary function is to define and protect the rights of prisoners and their loved ones,” Hamm said.

The group is trying to encourage people to see things a little differently with regard to the corrections system and the criminal justice system, he said.

Hamm will be a guest on World Class Arizona with Pat McMahon Saturday at 6 p.m.  The discussion will be about the KTAR News documentary “Locked Up Arizona,” which airs at Saturday at 5:30 on KTAR News 92.3 FM.

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